Editor's Note: This segment was rebroadcast on Nov. 26, 2020. That audio is available here.
Argentinean-born composer Osvaldo Golijov recently premiered his new song cycle, “Falling Out of Time,” at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, where he's also a professor of music.
The poignant work is based on David Grossman’s soul-piercing book about a couple grieving the death of their child.
In “Falling Out of Time,” the father, made crazy by his sorrow, says he must walk to where the child is. The mother knows that's impossible. She watches from a belfry as he walks in circles around the town, while members of the community who've also lost children join him on a pilgrimage to nowhere.
“I personally know I'm dedicating the piece to seven couples that I know who have lost children,” he says.
There are no words to describe the anguish and range of emotions parents experience after losing a child, he explains. He says the music physically channels that heartbreak.
The song cycle, performed by the Grammy-winning Silkroad Ensemble, will be touring the country after workshopping the piece since 2017.
On one of the harder numbers
“The father is already in the hills around the town. And he plays this almost like a children's game. So the father is so crazy at that time that he thinks, ‘Okay, as long as I don't blink, I can empty my body and my son can use my body as a house, and he can live the life that he didn't live.’ ”
On the wife, who grieves the loss of her son and her walking husband
“It's a different kind of pain and we are trying to figure it out. There is a lot of melismas, which means like wailing music, and we are trying to find the sound for it.”
“This is, to me, the most important moment of the piece. What happens is there is this tremendous tension between the husband and the wife, where the husband says, ‘Come with me.’ And she says, ‘No, I will go with you to the end of the world, but I can not go ‘there’ because ‘there’ doesn't exist. I beg you, don't go. Don't get out of the circle of life. Come back. Come back to me. Come back to us.’ And at the same time, the husband is singing, ‘You are right, wife. There is no ‘there.’ The wife will say, ‘Go now. Go now.’ She encourages him. She says, ‘Go now. Be like him. There will be peace for you and for him.’ ”
On first reading Grossman’s book and tackling the depth of emotion through music
“Of course, once I actually did start doing I wanted to run away, but it was too late. But how can this be compared to the people that have lived through this? ... I mean, this one thing that David [Grossman] made me aware of is that [there's no word to define a parent who has lost a child] — not in Hebrew and not in English and not in Spanish. [There is] not one word that describes this.”
On the death of a child
“You cannot say ‘widow’ or ‘orphaned.’ This, you have to say what? Bereaved parent? Even language fears. This is almost like an anti-requiem, right? I think a requiem implies acceptance. This father that keeps walking, his refusal to accept, this illusion that as long as I'm walking, I'm in motion, this particular boy is alive. So limping walk, and that took me a while to figure out, musically speaking, is very simple.”
On whether he’s mastered the piece
“I feel like I got this one. I mean, in every piece, when I got it, I felt it. And where I didn't get it, I also knew that I didn't get it. It is not that thing in my sternum or in my stomach. But I know when. And here, what I wanted to find, I found.”
On meeting a Jewish man in Israel who lost a child in the conflict there, who then brought together Israelis and Palestinians who had lost children
“He told me this story of a man who had lost his son and he would sleep on the grave of his son. He decided what he would do was to accompany this man, to just sleep with him until the man was able to leave the cemetery and go back to his home. And so that stayed with me. This idea of the father that loses a child and says, ‘I have to go there.’ I also, with my music, have to go there.”
On the end of “Falling Out of Time”
“Near the end, after the realization that it is impossible to go ‘there’ to touch again what is gone, the voice of a boy appears and the boy sings a lullaby to his parents. The boy sings, 'There is breath, there is breath, inside the pain.' There, the child is singing to his own parents. I cannot think of anything more terrifying in the way and more beautiful.”
This segment aired on November 6, 2019.